Mysterious Sugar Alcohols

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

To help out my fellow sugar addicts, I mentioned I'd do a quick post about sugar alcohols.  I use a spoonful of xylitol in my morning coffee or tea and I use erithritol in my favorite paleo cookies. Before you assume I'm filling my diet with crazy carcinogenic sugar substitutes, don't worry.  The names sound a little scary and chemically, but they are safe and occur naturally in a lot of foods. Hopefully when I'm totally sugar-free in 2013, I won't need to rely on sweet-tasting foods at all.  But until then, I'm unapologetic in my <3 for sugar alcohol.

Let me give a quick (very unscientific) rundown.  For the full scientific description, see this website.  For a paleo perspective, see this article.

The Basics:  Sugar alcohols are not a sugar or an alcohol, although their chemical structure is a sort of hybrid.  They pass through the body without being fully metabolized and absorbed, which means they have less calories than sugar.  They don't seem to affect blood sugar or insulin levels.  In my opinion, they taste as yummy as sugar, don't have the weird aftertaste of stevia, and aren't nearly as addicting as sugar.  Plus, they aren't cancer-causing like sugar and some of the sugar substitutes like aspartame.  Sounds too good to be true, right? 

I'll start with the most well-known one, XYLITOL:

  • The Pros:  It's a little sweeter than sugar, with half the calories. When I eat a pinch of the granules, it first tastes sweet and then cool on the tongue.  It has been proven to protect against dental cavities and there are studies being done on it's positive affects on bone density. It may help with osteoporosis.  Joe actually brushes his teeth with it.  Crazy, right?  
  • The Cons:  even one stick of gum with xylitol in it can kill your dog, it's that poisonous to canines. So  watch out!   Like most sugar alcohols, it starts to ferment in your large intestine, so it can cause gas, bloating, diarrhea, etc. if eaten in large amounts.  If you are prone to intestinal issues, you may want to avoid.  I haven't had any of these problems though, and I have a fairly sensitive gut.
  • Buy ItXylitol on 
  •  Pros: Although it's less sweet than sugar, it is basically zero calories.  It tastes a LOT like sugar.  It is the least likely to cause gas and bloating.  Sisi can eat it without any negative digestive effects.  It doesn't harm the teeth like sugar does, and it may also be benefitial to oral health (studies still in the works.)  
  • Cons:  Can't really think of any.  Yes, it's a processed food, so the most paleo of paleo dieters will not eat it, but I love using it in baked goods.  If you eat a ton of it, like a TON, you *might* have some intestinal distress, but it's not likely.  
  • Buy it: erithritol on  

  • Pros:  Same benefits as the others, listed above.  Almost as sweet as sugar, used a lot in sugar-free candy bars and protein bars.  There is a chocolate bar called "simply lite" at Trader Joes that uses LOTS of maltitol.  Which leads me to the cons...
  • Cons:  This is the one sugar alcohol that sent me rushing to the toilet in a panic. Ok, so I ate 5 squares of the chocolate bar instead of one. It was so delicious. Serves me right.  But really, a girl should be able to enjoy 5 squares of chocolate without writhing in agony.  I guess maltitol is particularly bad for people with sensitive digestion.  Use it in moderation.

Any one else a fan?  Do you think sugar alcohol might help you fight off sugar binges? 


Rachel March 7, 2012 at 3:23 PM  

I don't use artificial sweetener much, but I do keep a bit of Splenda in the house. When I get crazy cravings for pudding, it works great. I've never baked with it because I tend to only make baked goods for special occasions.

My general thoughts are that a little bit of fake sweetener in any form is probably just fine. I just try to avoid excess.

My fake out dessert right now is raw chia pudding. I'm not sure if you guys can eat chia seeds? They plump up beautifully in milk (or almond milk or coconut milk) and make a tapioca like texture. Even unsweetened, there's something about the texture that fools me into thinking I'm eating pudding, especially if I add vanilla.

Clearly, I have a problem with pudding in general!

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